Maine voters started casting ballots in the June primaries this week.

Absentee voting is underway for the June 11 election, the first state primaries held under the new semi-open primary law that allows unenrolled voters to cast ballots in any party’s primary without being enrolled in that party.

“We want voters to be aware that we’re now 30 days out and they can request an absentee ballot now,” said Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows. “They can go to their town offices and vote absentee in person or can vote on Election Day, June 11. It’s a great opportunity to have your voice heard.”

Voters this November will decide all 186 seats in the Maine Legislature. There are also races for the U.S. Senate seat held by Sen. Angus King and both Maine congressional districts.

In addition to primaries in those races, many communities in June will vote on school budget referendums and other local issues.

WHO’S ON THE BALLOT?

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Both congressional races, along with a dozen and a half legislative races and a handful of county commissioner races, will have contested primaries, according to a list of candidates from the secretary of state’s office.

In the 1st District, Republicans Andrew Piantidosi of Cape Elizabeth and Ronald Russell of Kennebunkport are vying to challenge U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat who has held the seat since 2009.

In the 2nd District, Republicans Austin Theriault of Fort Kent and Mike Soboleski of Phillips are competing for a chance to run against U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat in his third term.

Ranked-choice voting will be used in races with at least three candidates. They include the Democratic race for District 118 in the Maine House, where Ben Chipman, who is termed out of his Senate seat, is running against former Portland school board member Yusuf Yusuf and Herb Adams, a former state lawmaker who represented part of the city from 2002-10 before being prevented from running again by term limits.

The seat is currently held by House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, a Democrat who is termed out of running again for the House and is running for Chipman’s Senate seat. No Republicans have filed with the secretary of state’s office in the District 118 race, meaning the winner of the primary is almost certain to win the seat.

The Democratic primary for House District 123 representing part of Cape Elizabeth will also be conducted using ranked-choice voting. Candidates Michelle Boyer, Cynthia Dill and Kimberly Monaghan are vying to replace Democrat Rep. Rebecca Millett, who is stepping away after 12 years in the House and Senate. The primary winner will run against Republican Annie Christy.

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Close to 40 seats in the Legislature are open because of lawmakers being termed out or choosing not to run again, potentially opening the Democrat-controlled body up to changes in the balance of power, though many of the open seats are in Democratic strongholds.

FIRST SEMI-OPEN STATE PRIMARIES

This is the first year that state primaries will be held under a new semi-open primary law. The law was already used in the March presidential primaries to allow unenrolled voters to cast ballots in any party primary without having to enroll in that party.

Bellows said there was some confusion in the March election among voters who thought they were unenrolled but in fact were enrolled in a political party.

Some voters were also surprised to learn they had enrolled in the No Labels party, saying they were misled and confused as the group tried to gather enough enrollments to be recognized as an official political party in Maine.

“It’s really important for voters to check their party registration if they think they are unenrolled or, as we call it in Maine, independent, to verify that they are in fact not affiliated with a party and will have that choice on Election Day,” Bellows said.

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Maine has same-day voter registration, but already-registered voters who want to change parties must do so 15 days ahead of an election. For the June primary, that deadline is May 27, which is also Memorial Day, meaning most municipal offices will be closed.

That means the last day voters will be able to change parties in time to participate will be May 23 or 24. Voters who enroll in a new party may not change their party enrollment for three months, unless they move to a new municipality and establish voting residency there.

CITY TO VOTE ON SCHOOL BUDGET, PRIMARIES

State law requires that absentee ballots be available at least 30 days before an election, though some municipalities may have started voting earlier if they had ballots ready.

Tuesday was the first day of in-person absentee voting in Portland. The city also began mailing absentee ballots this week to people who have requested them.

City Clerk Ashley Rand said just before noon Tuesday that only 10 people had come to City Hall that morning to vote absentee. A total of 197 people have requested absentee ballots so far.

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“I don’t anticipate this election to be much busier than last June or even this past March, especially where we are at only 197 requests,” Rand said in an email.

The city ballot includes state primaries and the school budget referendum, although the City Council is not expected to vote on the school budget until next week.

City spokesperson Jessica Grondin said the city is letting people know on social media that the council isn’t voting on the school budget until May 20, and that people may request their ballots now and send them back after the 20th.

The wording on the ballot does not give a specific dollar amount for the school budget and only asks voters if they want to approve the budget approved by the council.

“State law says we must give 30 days for absentee voting, so we have to open it up even though the council hasn’t voted yet,” Grondin said.

Further information on what would happen to ballots already cast if the council rejects the budget would have to come from the city’s legal department and was not available Tuesday, Grondin said.

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LOW TURNOUT EXPECTED STATEWIDE

Portland is not the only municipality expecting low turnout for the June election. Bellows said low turnout is likely statewide as is typical in primary elections.

Maine has about 951,000 registered voters, and as of Tuesday just 5,050 had requested absentee ballots. Of those, 193 ballots have been returned and accepted.

“What I hope voters will recognize is the June primary is about who will represent us in the Legislature and in Congress,” Bellows said. “Depending on the district, the choices made on the June primary day could have a significant impact on the outcome in November. So for voters who care about who represents us in the Legislature and Congress, it’s important to get involved now.”

The secretary of state is also encouraging people to contact their municipal offices about serving as poll workers.

“Some voters may have questions about how our elections work, and one of the best ways to learn about elections is participating as a volunteer poll worker,” Bellows said. “Our clerks are recruiting people to work on June 11 … It is excellent insight into how the process works.”

Staff writer Lana Cohen contributed to this report. 

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